Why authors should play D&D

Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D for short, has acquired a rather bad name. Growing up, I heard that it was synonymous with devil worship, and I often found television shows and movies depicting its players as cult-like. It definitely came as a surprise to me when an author friend suggested I play it in order to improve my writing. I wondered how game about worshipping Satan could help my writing. (Admittedly, as an author of supernatural fiction, maybe that would have helped too). Once all my terribly inaccurate preconceived notions were stripped away, however, and I saw the game as it actually was, I wondered why I hadn’t been playing it all along.

First of all, D&D in and of itself is neither cultic nor satanic. The premise of the game is that the players’ characters are a group of adventures going on a quest. This could be for any reason ranging from a desire for gold and glory, or because they want to do good deeds for the world, and that decision is made entirely by the players. In D&D, one person is nominated to be the Dungeon Master, or DM. The DM’s role is to create a world for the player characters to adventure in, as well as write the rough outline of a story that the players will, hopefully, go along with to create an epic tale. In my experience, however, rarely does the latter work so well.

It’s easy to see how being the DM could help an author write – indeed, what does an author do if not create worlds and write stories that, hopefully, their characters will go along with to create an epic tale? However, I’ve found that it is actually being one of the players that assists an author even greater. A player’s character begins with the player coming up with a tale of why their character is going on this adventure. Some sample ideas are given, but the players are strongly suggested to come up with their own. After this, the skills and abilities of the character are created by the rolling of dice. It doesn’t matter how strong a player wants his character to be, if the player upon rolling his three dice only rolled a total of 10, that character will never be a world weight lifting champion. This puts restrictions on what that character can do, forcing the player to be more creative when playing the game in order to achieve what he wants.

One of the most common complaints with fiction is that the characters don’t seem to have defined abilities or are too powerful – D&D solves this through rolling for all of these things, and then forces the player to stay true to them, thereby giving the player practice in telling a story through a realistic character. Furthermore, whenever a player wants his character to do something, he has one of two options – he can either use dice to roll to determine if his character is successful, which is the default but less preferred method, or he can tell a story about how his characters would attempt to overcome the obstacle and convince the DM through his storytelling that his character would be successful. This is no different from an author attempting to convince his readers that his character would be able to do what he is saying the character can do.

Finally, I will openly state that the game itself is a story. Picture this – a group of nine adventures embark on an epic quest to defeat an ancient evil that is reawakening. On their way, members die and the group is separated, but in the end the adventures are successful, and though they’ve lost friends along the way, the world is safe once again. Sound familiar, like perhaps you’ve read a few books or seen a few movies like that? That was the premise of a D&D campaign a friend of mine finished a few months back, when an ancient dragon had awaken from its long slumber, but it just as easily could have been Lord of the Rings. The biggest differences between a group of friends sitting down and attempting to write a novel together and a group of friends playing D&D is that with D&D the players are doing it entirely for fun, they have a clear and set system that they attempt to stay inside as much as possible (with the rules admittedly saying that they were made to be broken eventually), and often there is no one writing the adventure down.

Now of course, since D&D is entirely controlled by the players, it is completely possible that the game could take a satanic or cultic turn if that is the directions the players wish it to take. That is, however, no different from any form of storytelling. There have been authors who have written books about how to summon demons or communicate with the dead – does that mean that all authors are to be grouped in with them and viewed as satanic? Of course not. The same is equally true of D&D.

Dungeons and Dragons is a method through which players are able to create worlds and tell of adventures with their friends. As such, it is the perfect exercise for authors to practice their storytelling. Whatever role the author finds himself in, whether DM or player, he will be either creating a world or a character and then telling a story within it, receiving feedback from his friends all the while who will encourage him to get better at what he does. He will gain experience creating realistic characters with defined skills and abilities, all under the guise of fun. What more could an author ask for?

If this all sounds great to you, and you’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons before, then I’d suggest grabbing a few friends, heading over to Wizards of the Coast‘s website (or just click the link!) and grabbing their free rules pdf and trying it out.

Until next time, roll well.

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